As I return to my daily routine after a fall-break beach vacation, which I took with my boys last week, I am feeling a bit out of sorts.
While it certainly could be the lack of exercise (or withdrawals from my daily, beach-side Pina Colada regimen), my instincts tell me otherwise.
The sort of brain fog, anxiety and irritability I have been dealing with for the past few days has made something crystal clear for me- the morning rituals I have been practicing for the past three years of my life are of great value to my psyche .
While I had always suspected this, taking a week-long break from these rituals has blatantly confirmed my suspicions. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression since adolescence, let me just tell you….a healthy morning routine has been life-changing (too bad it took me over 30 years to discover this).
So today, I feel compelled to share with you some of the rituals I have found most effective for managing my depression and anxiety. (In a future article, I will address the supplementation/medical aspect of my mental health).
Mental health is not self-indulgent
So before you busy, self-less mamas out there start to dismiss this post, questioning how the hell you could ever find the time to add one more thing to your “to-do” list, just hear me out- anything that facilitates your well-being and enhances your mental health is worth trying.
I know damn well, many outsiders perceive me as self-indulgent, and I am ok with that. The truth is that my depression, coupled with the pressures of motherhood, has forced me into a survival mode of sorts.
A few years before giving birth to my first son, I was actually hospitalized for a full-blown nervous breakdown. Long story short, I hit an ultimate low after my anxiety became too much to bear. The whole ordeal left me feeling “broken” and weak.
While deep-down I had always dreamed of being a mother, I feared I did not have the mental capacity to successfully parent a child. Fast forward a few years, and I am in utter shock as a nurse announces to me that I am pregnant (what I suspected were gallstones was actually a fetus…my bad!).
Considering the fact that I was happily married and financially stable, one would assume this to be a celebratory occasion, but the trauma of my past made me spiral into a pit of self-doubt and fear- this poor child deserves a mother who isn’t weak or broken like me.
That is when I vowed to myself I would do everything in my power to ensure that my baby is raised in a healthy, happy environment. If others perceived me as selfish or a bad mother, I really didn’t give a sh*t. My son was not going to have a miserable, suicidal nutcase for a mom.
As soon as my first son was born, I had enforced my first semblance of a morning routine and it has continued to evolve ever since.
1. Listen to Motivational Content While Getting Ready
If I could recommend just one morning ritual to anyone getting started, I would recommend listening to motivational podcasts or videos in the mornings (either while getting ready or commuting to work). No news, no social media- just positivity.
Back in the day (when I was a new-mother), I established a ritual of listening to inspirational videos while putting on my make-up in the morning. As the babes got older (and didn’t take their morning naps), this process could get a little frustrating. Nonetheless, I still practice this ritual today. The mind, if left to neutrality, will always find reasons to complain, worry or procrastinate. Listening to uplifting material in the morning is a great way to get out ahead of your low-vibe thoughts and set a better tone for the day. As for the make-up? Well, that was simply a means of maintaining my groomed, pre-motherhood self.
2. Get Your Sweat On
I realize that working out in the mornings is a luxury many cannot afford (when I worked for someone else, I had a really hard time with this), but you would be surprised at what an effective mood booster this can be (especially if you can go outside for some added oxygen and nature therapy).
In the early days of motherhood, this was my saving grace, ya’ll. The gym was basically the only time I got to myself (find a gym with free child-care!). Not only is it nice to get your workout checked off the “to-do” list, but exercise reduces my anxiety and leaves me feeling hopeful and empowered. As my children are now in school programs and I am no longer confined to the free childcare at the gym, I have especially enjoyed hiking and running out in nature. Being out in the wild gives me an instant sense of connection to the divine- washing away my worries and doubts.
3. Light and Gratitude Upon Waking
In order to make my mornings less rushed and more chill, I wake up waaay before the sun(and before my little rascals). Because I am not much of an early riser naturally, I have learned how to trick myself a bit.
First of all, I get my butt to bed as soon as I get the kids down at night. Then, I put my phone on air-plane mode (for better sleep, less EMF waves going thru my brain and no pesky interruptions). Once my alarm goes off in the morning, I reach over to my bedside table and immediately turn on the lamp (and hit snooze on my alarm). During the ten minutes of snooze, I let my body acclimate to the light of my lamp. Once my pineal gland is stimulated and my mind is somewhat coherent, I begin to think about all of the things I am grateful for: my family, clean water, a roof over my head, etc. While I am not much of an early riser, waking up an hour earlier has decreased my morning stress levels and allowed me time for the next practice on my list…
4. Active Meditation Followed by Prayer
In the domain of self-help and spirituality, it may seem as though “meditation” is nothing more than an over-used buzzword, but it has truly been a game-changer for me. In fact, I can proudly declare that I have powered through three years of self-disciplined meditation to have finally reached the point where I now look forward to this daily practice of solitude, reflection and divine connection.
For those of you still not convinced by all of my woo-woo talk, fMRIs and EEGs are now confirming the ways in which meditation alters brain matter. For more detailed accounts, you can read this article.
I think the key to solidifying this practice into your daily routine is finding the particular style of meditation that works for you. Whether it be guided meditation, silent reflection, Transcendental Meditation, body scan meditation or active meditation through certain Yogic traditions, just realize the first year of your meditation journey will be full of trial-and error. Personally, my favorite modality has been Kundalini Yoga meditations.
In Kundalini Yoga meditation, you sing a mantra (in the ancient language of Gurmukhi) while also having to control your breathing (this breathing practice is known as Pranayam). To keep my practice “doable” and sustainable , I rarely exceed 20 minutes. Thanks to the controlled breathing and the focus required for reciting the mantras in a foreign (nonsensical to me) language, I can get in the zone pretty easily.
Regardless of the meditative style you would like to explore, Youtube is a great resource for beginners. Of course there are also apps as well, but since I am a pretty devoted Kundalini, I do just fine with Youtube and the occasional studio class.
Although years of meditation have proven life-changing for me, it is important to note that not every meditative session is magical or profound. Actually, there are many times when I cannot quiet my mind, and all I can do is simply sit still and practice being in my body and controlling by breath. Nonetheless, all of the dud moments combined are worth the rarer, magical moments. As I have remained dedicated to a daily practice, the profound moments grow in frequency. Even better, all of the breath work has done wonders for my anxiety.
While these morning rituals are only a fraction of my mental health strategy, I do believe that , with time and dedication, better mornings lead to better days, and better days lead to a better quality of life. Will these practices make you impervious to the ebbs and flows of life? Absolutely not. But they have definitely made me better equipped.
Sending my love to any of you struggling with anxiety or depression. You are not alone.
Now get out there and design some good vibes (and a fabulous life).